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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 04 2013

Sister's recovery from stroke helps motivate NDSU's Ojuri


As the oldest child of Adebisi and Abosede Ojuri, Lovette has a couple of master’s degrees and is working on her doctorate. Their youngest child, Sam, is a senior at North Dakota State and has a couple of FCS national titles.

This weekend, the middle child, Elizabeth, is hopping in the car with her parents in Barrington, Ill., and driving to Fargo to watch the Bison play Northern Iowa. As talented as Elizabeth’s siblings are, the fact she’s making the trip, suffering a stroke at about this time last year, deserves a national title ring of her own.

She had to learn how to do everything over again, such as walk and talk. When the stroke happened, the Ojuris decided not to tell Sam for about a month because of the fear he would take it too hard.

He did take it hard.

“I just went into my room and lay there,” Sam said. “I started to think about memories of me and my sister, and I started to think about the worst-case scenario.”

Elizabeth was hospitalized for about a couple months, with pneumonia complicating matters. Recovery, albeit slow, has come in increments.

Abosede stays at home and takes care of her.

“God gave us Elizabeth,” Adebisi said. “We have to deal with it.”

In the early days of rehabilitation, Elizabeth would try and talk with Sam on the phone, and as Sam said, “at least I could hear her voice.”

Elizabeth, 28, was born with sickle cell anemia, an infliction that has been a lifelong battle. Before every game, Sam takes a moment to think about his family as an extra boost of motivation.

“There’s probably been a crisis once a year,” Sam said. “I’m not sure what it is, something where you just go into shock and there’s pain all over your body.”

Elizabeth was well enough, however, to attend the championship game last January in Frisco, Texas. Adebisi says there was hesitation to bring her. “But she insisted in coming with us,” he said. “We had to carry her, but she came with us.”

After the game, with the team celebrating on the field and in the locker room, Sam made his way to the handicap area on the concourse of FC Dallas Stadium to hug his sister.

In a way, it was a microcosm of the adventure known as Sam’s Bison career. There have been a couple of dips in the curve, but it’s still going up.

He was suspended from the team in 2010 for violating team policy. He missed another game last season because of the petition fraud case.

“He’s matured by leaps and bounds,” said Bison offensive coordinator Brent Vigen. “I think when we got him he was a very raw, immature kid, and that showed up obviously with him having to sit down that second year. The way he goes about his business has changed.”

He returned as a sophomore in 2011 to rush for 1,105 yards, a season that ended with the first title in Frisco. Last year had the same flavor, going over 1,000 yards again.

He also did it despite being hurt most of the year. It started with a sprained knee ligament in fall camp. Then came a sprained ankle in the season opener.

He’s healthier this year and bigger at 212 pounds. He also appears to be running harder, something Sam said he noticed a need for improvement after watching film in the offseason. Head coach Craig Bohl says Ojuri is seeing the field better.

Earlier this week, Adebisi and Abosede were talking about how the plan in high school was for Sam to play at a major Division I school. Rivals.com rated him the 31st-best prospect in the state of Illinois. Several lower-end FBS programs recruited him, but he ended up at NDSU, much to the surprise of his parents.

“We didn’t know why he picked Fargo,” Adebisi said. “But he made the right decision. Sam is a blessing for us. He’s matured now.”

The Bison were 3-8 when Sam played as a true freshman in 2009.

“The thing about Sam is anywhere he goes there is always improvement,” Adebisi said.

In the case of NDSU, that includes improvement in himself and his sister. She’s getting around much better these days.

“That definitely motivates me to give it all I got,” Sam said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia